aerial image of tiny houses in seattle

One of the many tent cities that has been sanctioned to help deal with the homeless crisis, in Ballard, a wealthy neighborhood of Seattle. 

Seattle is a city on a massive upswing. Far from its stereotype of laid-back slackers in flannel coats, the typical Seattleite is highly educated, likely born elsewhere, and much, much wealthier than in the past. This is good news for the region's economy - job and property markets continue to grow at a red-hot pace, thanks mainly to Amazon (who moved their headquarters downtown in 2007, spurring a technology boom). But it's bad news for those who need affordable housing, which is in drastically short supply, "And that’s only if the annual rate of people becoming homeless doesn’t increase", writes the Seattle Times. 
an aerial view of a homeless tent city next to the space needle in seattle

Large homeless camps dot the city, including next to Seattle's most famous monuments. In this picture you can see the Space Needle, the Museum of Pop Culture, and the Climate Pledge Arena (newly redesigned at a cost of over $1B). In the foregound sits the headquarters of the Gates Foundation (the world's largest philanthropy). In the other direction (out of frame) is the headquarters for Amazon, one of the world's most valuable companies.

an aerial view of a homeless tent city next to the space needle in seattle

Homeless camps like this are generally tolerated in the city. The topic has sparked much debate between citizens, homeowners, and businesses. 

a homeless camp under a bridge in seattle

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, days before this encampment was removed by authorities. On the pillars was a notice from the city, telling residents to vacate or face fines. Hundreds of people live underneath Seattle's roadways, a roof from the notoriously wet weather. 

a homeless camp next to a highway in portland, oregon

Two of Portland's "C3PO" camps for people experiencing homelessness sit in adjacent lots next to I-5. The communities were set up at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and give priority to the LGBTQI+ and BIPOC communities. 

aerial view of a homeless camp in seattle

Blue roofs on this tiny home village in Ballard look like the blue tarps in Mumbai

aerial view of a homeless camp in seattle

A "tiny home" village on Lake Union, this one near downtown Seattle.

aerial view of a homeless camp next to a bridge in seattle

Interbay Village, a city-permitted "tiny home" village in the shadow of the Magnolia Bridge in Seattle.

aerial view of a homeless camp next to amazon hqin seattle

City officials, police, and the homeless are constantly playing whack-a-mole with tent camps. When one is shut down, another springs up. 

Seattle's homelessness problem was officially declared a crisis by Mayor Ed Murray in 2015, and it's a common topic (more like a common rant) around dinner tables. You see it everywhere, but especially while driving on the main interstate, I-5, in or out of town - the medians, bridges, and sidewalks are full of brightly colored tents. Many people associate homelessness with drug or alcohol abuse, or as a kind of benign urban nuisance. But the reasons are more complex. 
The Puget Sound Business Journal writes "Homelessness is rooted in the shortcomings of other systems, such as the foster care system, the federal government’s policies related to the creation and retention of affordable housing, and incarceration, mental illness, drug addiction and health crises." Seattle needs more than $410 million annually in order to build enough affordable housing units to solve the homelessness problem, yet the age-old debate between spending on social services and economic growth is in full swing, putting Seattle's cherished progressive credentials to the test. 
In an unconventional move, the city has decided to tacitly accept the solution of semi-sanctioned "tent cities" where the homeless can build mini-homes, pitch tents, and park their vehicles without fear of arrest or harassment. This has created a patchwork of strange, blue tarped-roof homes in some of Seattle's wealthiest neighborhoods that provoke a discomfiting resemblance to refugee settlements. Will these tent cities last? As I found out in 2017, probably not. They operate on a short-term lease basis which the city must renew, a process which leaves empty lots behind, a few scraps of rubbish, and nonplussed residents, happy to see their impoverished neighbors leave.
aerial view of a homeless camp next to construction in seattle

A tent city in Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood. 

aerial view of a homeless camp in seattle

A "tiny home village" in North Seattle.

aerial view of a homeless camp next to a school playground with children in seattle

This unsanctioned grouping of tents on city-owned park land in North Seattle and next to a local school, has residents angry.

Beyond homelessness, Seattle was once a highly segregated city with an aim to preserve racial purity through a series of restrictive covenants, informal and formal lending practices governed by the racist FHA "redlining" guidelines, and normative attitudes. Only in 1968 did these covenants become illegal. Seattle has since become known for progressive politics, but racial tensions remain. The Pacific Northwest - including Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana - is still known as a hotbed for racists.  
The video below is an excellent 90 second explainer of redlining in Seattle, which can be applied to most US cities. 
aerial view of a homeless camp in seattle

Oftentimes, "tiny home" villages aren't easily visible from the street. This one is in North Seattle.

aerial view of a homeless camp in seattle

Tent camps alongside Lake City Way.

aerial view of a homeless camp with highway  in seattle

"The Jungle", a famous strip of land underneath and alongside I-5, was once home to hundreds of homeless people.

aerial view of a homeless camp in portland

Tents along US-30 in Portland.

aerial view of a homeless camp under a bridge in portland

Homeless encampments are found under many bridges in Portland, especially near downtown. 

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